Impacts of new federal Title IX regulations on Emerson are unknown, administrator says

By Parker Purifoy, Emerson '21

College staff members are reviewing new federal Title IX regulations released on Wednesday with one administrator calling the timing of the release “shocking” and that the extent of the regulations’ impact is unknown. 

“I don’t think we know the extent of the impact of the new regulations on the college or our Sexual Misconduct Policy at this point, especially given that the [Department of Education] document is more than 2,000 pages,” Vice President for Equity and Social Justice Sylvia Spears said in a statement to The Beacon. “I fear, in the [Department of Education’s] efforts to create greater ‘balance’  in the college process, they have actually created conditions that will contribute to reduced reporting of incidents.”

The new regulations made sweeping changes to federal Title IX policy, requiring that colleges hold live hearings for Title IX cases, during which alleged victims and perpetrators can be cross-examined. The new guidelines also shrink the parameters for what colleges across the country are required to investigate, ruling that they are no longer responsible for investigating incidents that occur off campus or outside college programs. 

Emerson will rely on guidance from experts and the Title IX working group to ascertain the implications of the new federal regulations, the college said in an email to the community. The college’s statement did not explicitly say how the new regulations might impact college policy or who would be examining the new federal guidelines. 

All colleges and universities that receive federal funding will be required to be in compliance with the new regulations by August 14, which the college said would pose a great challenge.

“This will be a tremendous challenge for all institutions, especially given the effects of COVID-19 on the operations of colleges and universities across the country, including Emerson,” the statement said. “As always, Emerson remains committed to fostering an environment that is free from interpersonal power-based violence and to ensuring a fair and consistent process for all members of the Emerson community.”

The regulations are the culmination of a years-long process by the Department of Education to alter the previous guidelines set out by the Obama administration. In 2011, the Obama administration issued the “Dear Colleague” letter which broadly defined sexual harassment and stated that colleges could be held liable for incidents they knew about or reasonably should have known about. The letter also highly discouraged live hearings where an alleged victim would be forced to face the accused. 

Title IX Coordinator Pamela White said she did not have any comment past the college’s statement.